The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has Liberty City Council debating whether or not the City will host the much-anticipated Liberty Jubilee street festival this spring. If the event is canceled, it will be the third year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a Liberty City Council meeting on Tuesday, Liberty City Manager Tom Warner explained that the City currently has five employees out with COVID-19, including four at the police department and one in public works.
“The number of cases in the county for the week of Jan. 3 are up 4.1 percent above last week’s numbers. The current estimate of active cases for the county is 822,” he said, reading from his manager’s report.
While Omicron should peak in the next couple of weeks, Warner asked Council to consider the virus when discussing plans for the Jubilee.
Councilman Chipper Smith said he would hate for the event to not go on as planned but doesn’t want to put the public at greater risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
Council plans to make a decision about the event at a future meeting. Two meetings are planned for Jan. 25 or Feb. 8.
“We have a little bit of time. You may want to think about what we’re going to do,” Warner said.
Warner provided an update on repairs to the Humphreys Cultural Center. The engineer for the project has completed plans and specifications, and the project will now be put out for bids. The scope of work includes roofing, installation of parapet flashing, wall flashing, skylight flashing and new skylights, the installation of exterior ladders, cleaning and sealing the exterior of the building, replacing flooring and repainting walls damaged by water.
He also shared information on electrical systems projects totaling $1.73 million. These projects are funded by the Cambridge Fund, which comes from profits from the Sam Rayburn Municipal Power Agency. The cities of Liberty, Jasper and Livingston are members of SRMPA.
The City of Liberty’s Cambridge Fund also funded $2.8 million in renovations to Liberty Municipal Golf Course. Assistant City Manager Chris Jarmon provided Council with an update on the golf course renovations.
While the course was expected to be open to the public in mid-January, some delays in sodding the course are preventing it from opening at this time. Jarmon told Council that ideally they would like to see the course open in the next few weeks.
A project that will be left unfinished when the golf course opens is a restroom facility, which was delayed by the manufacturer. The restroom for the course is a pre-fabricated building that is expected to be delivered in June.
Warner told Council that the building had an 8-10 month delivery time when it was ordered. Until it is installed, golfers will have to use the restrooms inside the clubhouse.
In other business, Council approved a new ordinance that requires a one-time, $200 permit to be paid by developers of food truck parks. One such food truck park being developed is located next to the new Fuel Maxx store on the 1000 block of N. Main St. The developer of that site also is building a new Sleep Inn and Suites on the adjacent property.
Jarmon provided some insight as to what the developer has planned for his remaining property – the old Thrif-Tee Food Center.
“The plan is to convert that into three separate businesses – an indoor storage facility, an office space and a restaurant,” Jarmon said.
Another “new” restaurant is in the works for Liberty. Located in the old Riverside Seafood location on US 90 will be a new restaurant called Tiger Harry’s Riverside. No information was provided as to when the new restaurant will open.
Council tabled a grant request for another new business operating under the name of Swampshop, LLC. Had it been approved, the $25,000 grant would have been paid through the Liberty Community Development Corporation. The LCDC board had given its consent to the grant prior to Tuesday’s meeting. However, Council had reservations about approving the grant until more was learned about the developer’s plans for the project on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
According to Jarmon, the property owner, Chris Finch, plans to open a business that will be both an entertainment and food establishment, and a rental venue. Jarmon said Finch is looking to invest $200,000 in hard and soft costs for the project. The entertainment venue is expected to be a family-friendly, axe-throwing recreation center.
“I have reservations about using LCDC money for private projects like this. I think the money should be used for public projects,” said Mayor Carl Pickett.
Councilwoman Dianne Tidwell, a retired banker, said she doesn’t want to discourage the owner but Council needs more information on his project.
“We all would love to see businesses here, but we have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Liberty,” she said.
In other business, Council rejected a bid for a citywide street rehabilitation project and agreed to rebid the project. Warner explained that the engineer’s estimate put the project closer to $2.3 million, not the $3.9 million that was quoted in the bid.
In order to attract more bidders, they have removed the requirement that bidders must attend a pre-bid meeting.
City Secretary April Gilliland provided an update on the upcoming May 7 election. Four positions are up for election, including mayor and three council positions. Currently those positions are held by Mayor Pickett and Councilmen Chipper Smith, Neal Thornton and Dr. David Arnold.
The deadline to file for a position on the ballot is Friday, Feb. 18. Sign-ups begin on Jan. 19. Packets are available at City Hall or on the City’s website: https://www.cityofliberty.org/city-secretary/pages/candidate-packet-general-election.